Inspiring positive change in football: Praise for Gareth Southgate and team

Ahead of tonight’s World Cup Football Semi-Final, England vs Croatia, I want to take a moment to highlight the fantastic mental health work done by Gareth Southgate’s team.

This article in the Guardian outlines the incredible work the England football team have done with a psychologist, Pippa Grange, to work through issues relating to mental health, to re-frame their perspectives, and work together better as a team.

It demonstrates how a positive, open-minded approach to mental health which is widely accepted ultimately delivers results. This means a holistic approach: supported by management, back-office teams and the front-face of any business.

By addressing mental health at a systemic, organisation-wide level, it is possible to take a high-performing, talented and skilled team to greater success.

This team is not faultless or flawless. The conduct of the players in early stage matches was far from perfect, with the controversial last 16 match against Colombia nearly descending into fist-fights, several industry commentators voiced their criticisms. However, in a sport which has undoubtedly eroded in integrity over time through consistently bending the rules, manipulating referees and suffering from a wealth of issues relating to football hooliganism and sexism in sport, this open-minded approach to breaking down mental health barriers is a breath of fresh air.

The recent Brexit vote has, in many ways, shook the UK to its foundation, and continues to do so, as political corruption and deception emerges, and debate puts a spotlight on deeply held, fragmented beliefs relating to inequality and social injustice. Gareth Southgate is proud of the unity the event has brought to the country:

Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity, and sport has the power to do that – (Gareth Southgate in The Evening Standard)

There is no doubting the violence, aggression and even homophobia and sexism that football fan culture can engender, but the opportunity to unite all backgrounds and faiths, behind a diverse team of players from many different socioeconomic backgrounds who are stepping up to represent their country, is certainly welcomed.

Above all, it offers concrete evidence that in a high-pressure, high-stress environment, the path forward is through kindness, empathy, integrity, care and connection.

Whatever the outcome of tonight’s game, the players, the manager and the support team should be proud of what they have achieved.